Not having access to enough clean drinking water is almost unimaginable for people in the West. But to 700 million people around the world, it’s a fact of life – and that number is set to reach 1.8 billion by 2025.
Physical water scarcity, which affects the number of people mentioned above, is when the demands of all aspects of a community – including its environment – exceed the supply of water.
But it’s also important to take into account economical water scarcity, which is when communities lack the resources to extract the drinking water that they need.
This currently affects another 1.6 billion people, according to the U.N.
An estimated 3.5 million people die each year simply because of an inadequate water supply for drinking and sanitation, according to a 2008 estimate by the World Health Organization.
The lack of water predominantly affects developing countries, as the following chart shows:
Image courtesy of the United Nations.
The economic impact
The World Bank report that outlines the threat notes that the economic impact can be reduced if the affected regions adopt better planning for resource allocation and increase water investments.
From the UN perspective there is some good news in the form of a millennium goal of halving the people living with water scarcity by 2015, which was reached, according to UNICEF, giving more than two billion people access to improved water.
But these gains were mostly restricted to certain areas; only 61% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population has adequate drinking water, compared to 90% more in most parts of the world.
And with the world population projected to reach 8 billion by 2025, additional stress will be put on existing water resources, disproportionately affecting low-resource areas.
There’s also climate change – while it might actually have a positive effect on the renewal of water resources in some areas, seasonal changes and more extreme events could just as likely exacerbate current drinking water crises, according to a frequently cited article in Science magazine.
So while progress has been made, more sustainable practices – or radical solutions – are likely needed in the future for the world to exist on current water resources.